Shakopee researching feasibility of higher education innovation center

The Shakopee Economic Development Authority on Tuesday unanimously approved funding for a feasibility study for a regional innovation center in Shakopee.

Planning Director Michael Kerski said the city has been working with organizations like First Stop, SCORE, Open to Business and Minnesota State University-Mankato on possibly opening a facility.

“(The university) thinks they’ll be able to draw not only from Shakopee but from the surrounding towns,” Kerski told the EDA, which is comprised of the city council. “They’re very excited about an opportunity here in Shakopee.”

The feasibility study is just the first of many steps toward a project like this becoming reality. It’s possible the study could come back and say there is no market for an innovation center, Kerski said. Possible stakeholders are hopeful about the idea, though, and have been discussing what it might look like.

Kerski told the EDA the center would likely be able to offer pre-college courses for high school students, credits for those wanting to complete a degree, and even credits for students in advanced degree programs. The facility might also include landing space for companies researching a move to Shakopee or the surrounding area.

“This has become popular in other locations since it allows a company to establish itself and move critical staff to an area to test a market or to acquire a site and coordinate new business development,” Kerski wrote in a memo to the EDA.

The facility could also offer space for companies to train employees on new equipment or technology, and it could also offer co-working spaces and separate meeting rooms for group work.

According to Kerski’s memo, manufacturers often install equipment for training purposes that can also be used to show potential customers.

“This is common in facilities for items like 3D printers, high quality digital printers, or smaller super computers. Some facilities also house auto lathes, waterjet cutting technologies or other high tech cutting machines,” Kerski wrote.

The feasibility study will research whether there is demand for such a facility in Shakpee and, if so, which organizations should operate it. The U.S. Economic Development Administration could fund up to 50 percent of an eventual request for proposal, if Shakopee’s application is accepted.

“Corporations are looking at these more and more as places where they let innovation leave the campus and go outside the campus,” Kerski told the Shakopee EDA Tuesday. “There are companies in Shakopee that could potentially take advantage of that.”